I am an unabashed fan of the TV series The West Wing, and have been for a number of years. While I don't have a photographic memory, per se, I do remember dialogue from movies and TV shows. So today, when the White House kind of "distanced" themselves from some of the jokes that Wanda Sykes told Saturday night at the White House Correspondents' Dinner, it struck a West Wing memory chord for me.
What few but the geekiest among us may recall is that in the second season of The West Wing, in an episode called "The Drop In",, CJ Cregg had to go and ask a comedian not to do a political dinner because of a previous incident related to a performance he had done for then-candidate Jed Bartlet. The joke had been related to police officers shooting black men, and the White House wanted to avoid having the press dig all of that up again because it would become a distraction from the issues.
Yes, the subject of the joke and the topics were different, but I couldn't help finding an amazing serendipity to one particular fact: the fictional comedian who was in the West Wing episode was named Cornelius Sykes. How's that for life imitating art?
But it's not the first time that The West Wing managed to fortell political events as it pertained to real life.
SPOILERS HERE in case you haven't yet watched the entire WW series:
According to an interview that he gave to The New York Times, executive producer Lawrence O'Donnell and his fellow writers had planned for Vinick to win the election until John Spencer's sudden death in December 2005. After that, they decided that Santos losing both his running mate and the election would be too difficult for the audience to watch, and they changed the election's outcome.
According to an article in The New York Times (29 October 2008), shortly after then-Illinois state senator Barack Obama spoke at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, "The West Wing" (1999) writer Eli Attie had several long telephone conversations with David Axelrod, a political consultant who was then working on Obama's U.S. Senate campaign. From those conversations, Attie modeled the character of Matthew Santos after Obama's political and personal life. Like Santos, Obama eventually won his race for the presidency. Likewise, according to an article in The Guardian (6 November 2008), the character of Josh Lyman was modeled after Rep. Rahm Emanuel; on the show, Lyman became President Santos' Chief of Staff, while Obama's first staffing announcement after his 2008 election was to name Emanuel as his Chief of Staff.
Now if you know a bit more about that last season of the series, you'd also know that the Democratic nomination was a slugfest right down to the end, and that the Republican nominee was a straight-talking, "maverick" type of character who didn't care much for talking about religion, and yet had to do any number of things that he didn't like to help consolidate his far right base. Any of that sound familiar?
And lastly the fictional campaign took a huge turn, much like the real life one did due to a relatively unexpected event. In The West Wing, it was an accident at a California nuclear power plant, while in real life the implosion of the economy swung the whole thing towards the Democrats.
What's amazing about all of these items, particularly those related to the election, is that they all were in episodes that aired nearly TWO YEARS before Barack Obama even declared he was running for the Presidency in February of 2007. The sixth season of the series (which covered the primary season) ran from the fall of 2004 through the spring of 2005, while the seventh (and last) season covering the election and subsequent changeover of office ran from fall 2005 through spring 2006.
During the real life Obama campaign, Aaron Sorkin wrote a piece that was published in the New York Times and to this day remains one of my favorite political "fan-fics", for lack of a better term. Here are a couple of my favorite excerpts:
On the Party Conventions:
BARTLET That was a hell of a convention.
OBAMA Thank you, I was proud of it.
BARTLET I meant the Republicans. The Us versus Them-a-thon. As a Democrat I was surprised to learn that I don’t like small towns, God, people with jobs or America. I’ve been a little out of touch but is there a mandate that the vice president be skilled at field dressing a moose —
On the Republican "Battle Against All That Is Dark and Scary":
OBAMA I’m interested in your advice.
BARTLET I can’t give it to you.
OBAMA Why not?
BARTLET I’m supporting McCain.
BARTLET He’s promised to eradicate evil and that was always on my "to do" list.
On the subjects of race and "exceptionalism":
OBAMA I’m not. They pivoted off the argument that I was inexperienced to the criticism that I’m — wait for it — the Messiah, who, by the way, was a community organizer. When I speak I try to lead with inspiration and aptitude. How is that a liability?
BARTLET Because the idea of American exceptionalism doesn’t extend to Americans being exceptional. If you excelled academically and are able to casually use 690 SAT words then you might as well have the press shoot video of you giving the finger to the Statue of Liberty while the Dixie Chicks sing the University of the Taliban fight song. The people who want English to be the official language of the United States are uncomfortable with their leaders being fluent in it.
OBAMA You’re saying race doesn’t have anything to do with it?
BARTLET I wouldn’t go that far. Brains made me look arrogant but they make you look uppity. Plus, if you had a black daughter —
OBAMA I have two.
BARTLET — who was 17 and pregnant and unmarried and the father was a teenager hoping to launch a rap career with "Thug Life" inked across his chest, you’d come in fifth behind Bob Barr, Ralph Nader and a ficus.
And, of course, the idea of Obama's supporters being "the angry Left":
OBAMA The problem is we can’t appear angry. Bush called us the angry left. Did you see anyone in Denver who was angry?
BARTLET Well ... let me think. ...We went to war against the wrong country, Osama bin Laden just celebrated his seventh anniversary of not being caught either dead or alive, my family’s less safe than it was eight years ago, we’ve lost trillions of dollars, millions of jobs, thousands of lives and we lost an entire city due to bad weather. So, you know ... I’m a little angry.
OBAMA What would you do?
BARTLET GET ANGRIER! Call them liars, because that’s what they are. Sarah Palin didn’t say "thanks but no thanks" to the Bridge to Nowhere. She just said "Thanks." You were raised by a single mother on food stamps — where does a guy with eight houses who was legacied into Annapolis get off calling you an elitist? And by the way, if you do nothing else, take that word back. Elite is a good word, it means well above average. I’d ask them what their problem is with excellence. While you’re at it, I want the word "patriot" back. McCain can say that the transcendent issue of our time is the spread of Islamic fanaticism or he can choose a running mate who doesn’t know the Bush doctrine from the Monroe Doctrine, but he can’t do both at the same time and call it patriotic. They have to lie — the truth isn’t their friend right now. Get angry. Mock them mercilessly; they’ve earned it. McCain decried agents of intolerance, then chose a running mate who had to ask if she was allowed to ban books from a public library. It’s not bad enough she thinks the planet Earth was created in six days 6,000 years ago complete with a man, a woman and a talking snake, she wants schools to teach the rest of our kids to deny geology, anthropology, archaeology and common sense too? It’s not bad enough she’s forcing her own daughter into a loveless marriage to a teenage hood, she wants the rest of us to guide our daughters in that direction too? It’s not enough that a woman shouldn’t have the right to choose, it should be the law of the land that she has to carry and deliver her rapist’s baby too? I don’t know whether or not Governor Palin has the tenacity of a pit bull, but I know for sure she’s got the qualifications of one. And you’re worried about seeming angry? You could eat their lunch, make them cry and tell their mamas about it and God himself would call it restrained. There are times when you are simply required to be impolite. There are times when condescension is called for!
I couldn't agree more. Rather than wringing our hands and just ignoring what the flailing Right is doing, we should be calling them out on their crap. When one of them comes out spouting crazy talk (like, oh, Michelle Bachmann comes to mind) we should SAY it's crazy. When Dick Cheney has the gumption and nerve to state that our country is somehow less safe, especially when it was their administration that MADE us less safe through their horrific policies, we need to call him on the carpet. Park his and anyone else's ass in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee and get them to tell the truth! Get Rahm Emmanuel to tell Mitch McConnell (a la Josh Lyman) "he can shove his legislative agenda up his ass"!
If nothing else, President Obama should seriously consider hiring Aaron Sorkin to be on his staff for speechwriting, or just about ANYTHING.....he can wind clocks for all I care. But he sure seems to have a decent record for predicting which way the political winds will blow, and since President Obama indicated in his speech at the WHCD on Saturday night he will "seriously consider losing his cool", I can't think of a better way than to see him channeling a bit of the old Jed Bartlet mojo IRL.